The Israeli Ministry of Interior has revoked the work visa granted in April 2017 to Human Rights Watch (HRW) employee Omar Shakir, a long-time anti-Israel, pro-BDS activist. In its response, HRW (and its local lawyer, Michael Sfard) makes the false claim that “neither HRW – nor Shakir as its representative – advocate for boycott, divestment or sanctions against companies that operate in the settlements, Israel or Israelis (sic).”
As documented below, both HRW and Shakir repeatedly have demonized Israel, including calls for boycotts of, divestment from, and sanctions against Israeli and other companies and businesses. Shakir’s advocacy started before HRW hired him, continues to the present-day, and even intensified. In fact, it appears that Shakir’s extensive experience in advocating for BDS and a 1948 agenda is precisely why he was selected by HRW
Despite HRW’s denials, most of its publications and advocacy relating to Israel aim to cause economic, diplomatic, legal, and cultural damage and to internationally isolate the country, as adopted in the infamous NGO program of the 2001 Durban conference. In the past year, HRW campaigns include targeting Israel’s membership in FIFA (the international soccer association), pushing the UN to “blacklist” companies doing business in Israel, baseless allegations of war crimes in Gaza, and lobbying for International Criminal Court prosecution.
In its complaints about Shakir, HRW does not explain why it alone should be granted special status and entitlement to work visas that would not be provided to any other private group or business. Specifically, why should HRW be exempt from relevant Israeli regulations and allowed to benefit from Israeli work visas while attempting to cause economic and other harm to the country? Currently, there are thousands of NGOs operating in Israel and hundreds if not thousands of activists campaigning for Palestinian causes (including via BDS). Because HRW lacks capacity, almost all of its work relies exclusively on local Israeli and Palestinian NGOs; the NGO does not make any case that it provides specialist work or experience entitling it to work visas. In addition, HRW employs a locally-based Israeli citizen, further weakening its claims regarding Shakir’s visa.
As noted, Shakir is a consistent supporter of a one-state framework and advocate for BDS campaigns against Israel, including in a previous position at the leading lawfare and BDS group Center for Constitutional Rights. HRW systematically hires individuals with backgrounds in anti-Israel campaigning for its Middle East division in violation of professional guidelines and ethical standards. Shakir’s employment has been no exception.
Examples of BDS activity by Omar Shakir since April 2017, when his work visa was approved:
- In support of the UN “blacklist” of companies:
- Tweet on November 27, 2017: “Settlements are war crimes. Doing business with them amounts to complicity in them. @UNHumanRights database of settlement businesses urgently needed to build pressure on companies to cease these activities” (emphasis added).
- Tweet on November 9, 2017: “Eight key players in corporate social responsibility world…calling for prompt release of UN database on businesses operating in illegal Israeli settlements, implicated in rights abuses.”
- Additional tweets on January 31, 2018 and September 25, 2017.
- Support for Amnesty International’s call for a “comprehensive arms embargo on Israel.” (Retweet of April 27, 2018)
- Support for US legislation to sanction Israel by restricting military aid, using false allegations of abusing Palestinian children. (November 15, 2017)
- Attempt to travel to Bahrain “to lobby participants at [the] Fifa congress to ban Israel from holding league football games in West Bank settlements.” (May 2017; Bahrain denied Shakir entry).
- Uncritical repetition of false charges that Israel is an “apartheid” state. (Tweet of January 23, 2018)
- Speaking with a group with ties to the PFLP terror group, alongside another group that also promotes BDS (Tweet of June 30, 2017). (After Shakir was initially denied a work visa in February 2017, he tweeted his appreciation of support from a number of NGOs with close ties to the PFLP [on February 25 and February 27].)
Examples of BDS activity by HRW since April 2017, when Shakir’s work visa was approved:
- Calling for “institutional investors” to divest from Israeli banks (HRW publication, September 2017): “In Human Rights Watch’s view, the context of human rights abuse to which settlement business activity contributes is so pervasive and severe that businesses cannot fulfill their human rights responsibilities if they continue carrying out activities inside or for the benefit of settlements…. These institutional investors [in Israeli banks] should ensure that their business relationships do not contribute to or benefit from serious human rights or IHL violations.
- Numerous documents, including oral statements to the UN Human Rights Council, in support of a “blacklist” of companies (June 2017-March 2018):
- “Businesses operating in settlements or facilitating settlement activity cannot do so without contributing to serious abuses…We encourage the High Commissioner to publish the names of those companies with which he has completed engagement before the end of his tenure, and urge the Council to ensure that his Office has the resources to ensure that the database is regularly updated.” (Statement to UNHRC, March 20, 2018)
- “we urge the Office of the High Commissioner to establish the settlement business database without further delay. The OHCHR database would provide important guidance for identifying which businesses are operating in or with settlements and would be a useful tool in helping all states fulfill their responsibilities outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 2334.” (Statement to UNHRC, June 19, 2017)
- “The database will publicly identify businesses that contribute to rights abuses by operating in or with settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In so doing, it will build pressure on businesses to stop doing business in and with settlements in order to meet their human rights responsibilities and for countries to respond to the Security Council’s call in its Resolution 2334 to distinguish between Israeli territory and settlements in their dealings….By evaluating the activities of businesses in Israeli settlements, the database, which will carry the imprimatur of the UN, will signal to businesses the abuses inherent in settlement activities and, in so doing, help companies avoid inadvertently doing business in or with settlement and build pressure on them to stop these activities to ensure compliance with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. This information will also provide states with the information needed to carry out measures to prevent and address corporate involvement in rights abuses.” (Press release, November 28, 2017)
- Article by Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Middle East and North Africa Division, highlighting various BDS initiatives under the banner of “Chipping Away at 50 Years of Occupation” (June 5, 2017): “One of the few bright lights of hope—at least for justice, and the promise to deter, one day, the ongoing Israeli crimes of land and resource theft as well as the unlawful Israeli and Palestinian attacks on civilians that characterize every outbreak of war—is the International Criminal Court (ICC)… If the prosecutor decides to open a formal probe, the ICC will be the first international body with the competence to criminally sanction Israeli government officials for their role in transferring Israeli civilians into settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as Palestinian and Israeli military and civilian leaders implicated in other war crimes….Human Rights Watch has called on all businesses to end operations in or with settlements…A global campaign to get FIFA, the world football federation, to stop sponsoring games in unlawful settlements in the West Bank has highlighted the human rights abuses inherent in doing business in settlements. And last year, the UN Human Rights Council mandated the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to create a database of businesses operating in or with the settlements, presumably as a public, individualized declaration of the council’s disapproval of such activities.”
- A series of multiple statements and op-eds, calling for FIFA sanctions against Israel (May 2017)
- An article supporting US legislation to sanction Israel by restricting military aid, using false allegations of abusing Palestinian children (November 14, 2017): “at the very least, McCollum’s bill is an opportunity for the US to start taking seriously its own contribution to the human rights abuses through which Israel has maintained its 50-year-long occupation of Palestinian lands, and pressing for those abuses to end.”
- Calling for ICC prosecution of Israel over Gaza-border violence (“Israel: Gaza Killings Unlawful, Calculated,” April 2018): “The killings highlight the importance of the International Criminal Court prosecutor opening a formal investigation into serious international crimes in Palestine, Human Rights Watch said.”
- Calling for national courts and ICC to prosecute Israel for demolishing illegally-built structure in the West Bank (Press release, April 25, 2018): “Countries should investigate individuals whom evidence suggests may be responsible for these crimes and prosecute those over whom they have jurisdiction. The International Criminal Court prosecutor should also examine the school demolitions as part of her ongoing preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine.”